House debates

Tuesday, 2 April 2019


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2018-2019, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2018-2019, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2018-2019; Second Reading

4:15 pm

Photo of Kerryn PhelpsKerryn Phelps (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. If we don't get it right, our children will pay the price. We may already be paying the costs. Climate change and the environment are top-of-mind issues for the people in my electorate of Wentworth and also of great concern to Australians everywhere. This will be a climate change and environment election, and the time to act is now.

Just this morning I met with Cassy Faux and Lauren McGrow, who were victims of the recent Tasmanian bushfires. When you also consider that there were floods in Queensland, prolonged drought, storms and a million dead fish at Menindee on the Darling River, with a dramatic drop in temperature following a period of very hot weather, it seems fair to say that we are seeing a rise in the prevalence of extreme weather events. I have spoken a number of times in this House about the need for urgent climate change action. The cost of inaction will be significant.

An integral part of the climate argument is the impact on our environment. Today I would like to speak about the growing problem of ocean plastics. In the past fortnight we heard about a whale in the Philippines that starved to death, having ingested 40 kilograms of plastics. Forty kilograms is an enormous amount. This was a wake-up call to all of us that we need to take action to limit the amount of plastic that is dumped into rivers and oceans worldwide.

The global population is living, working and vacationing along the coast. Coastal populations stand in the front row of the greatest plastic waste tide we have ever faced. According to Boomerang Alliance, globally 275 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year and in 2016 over nine million tonnes of plastic entered the world's oceans. Ocean currents have formed five gigantic, slow-moving whirlpools, where the plastic collects, called gyres. Most of the plastic debris sinks or remains in the gyres, but a significant percentage remains in oceans, where it is a threat to sea life, or washes onto our coastlines daily.

I volunteered with Clean Up Australia this year. You could not miss the presence of plastic on our shoreline. CSIRO recently completed a survey that found that three-quarters of the rubbish along Australia's coast is plastic. Most of it comes from Australian sources, not the high seas. Debris is concentrated near our cities. CSIRO also commented that Australia is probably a net exporter of debris to some neighbouring marine regions and surrounding countries. That is not the sort of export reputation that we should have.

Australians consume over three million tonnes of plastic products and packaging each year but recycle less than 10 per cent of the plastics we use in Australia. Litter comprises 60 per cent of all marine plastic pollution, including around 420 million plastic bottles, another 200 million of other pieces of plastic packaging, 180 million plastic bags, 10 million plastic products and over 11 billion synthetic cigarette butts. After sunlight photodegrades the plastic into small pieces, aquatic life and seabirds mistake these fragments for food and ingest them. It's estimated that globally over one million seabirds and over 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic. These creatures die through ingestion, mistaking it as food, or from entanglement in plastic items. It's difficult to know the exact figures, but a 2012 report from the Worldwide Society for the Protection of Animals indicated that between 57,000 and 135,000 whales are entangled in plastic marine debris.

Over 200 species are directly affected by marine plastic pollution, with 96 per cent of all marine biodiversity being vulnerable to the ingestion of these microplastics. While all plastic debris is dangerous to the environment, the threats escalate as plastic fragments into increasingly small pieces and enters the marine food chain and, in turn, our diet. These tiny microplastic particles are often mistaken as food, and, as latest research suggests, they are being ingested at very high levels. The CSIRO, for example, has found that 90 per cent of seabirds around the world have ingested plastic, and even plankton—the basic element of the marine food chain—has been observed ingesting microplastic. The prevalence of microplastic being ingested by our sea life is a major concern which has rapidly become one of the major threats to marine biodiversity. Humans are not immune from these effects. It is estimated that people who consume average amounts of seafood are ingesting approximately 11,000 particles of plastics each year.

The Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2014 identified marine debris and plastics as major threats to the health of the reef. It was found that 683,000 items of marine debris were recovered within the marine park between 2008 and 2014. It's well known that plastics entering the world's oceans are having a huge impact on our marine life. But they also have far-reaching impacts on human health and on our economy. A UNEP 2014 report identifies that plastics finding their way into the world's oceans cost approximately $17.3 billion per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems, and the total natural capital cost of plastics used in the consumer goods industry estimates at more than $99 billion per year. When the life span of products and packaging is taken into account, the annualised overall natural capital cost to the consumer goods sector is $35 billion, with the largest contributors being food, nondurable household goods, soft drinks and retail. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, estimates that the cost to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was $1.6 billion in our region alone. Local authorities have to bear the cost of cleaning up plastic litter from beaches, maintaining litter traps and bins and managing landfill. Managing waste is an enormous cost burden on local councils, who have diminishing options for recycling and eliminating plastic waste. The European Union is taking the initiative. Single-use plastic items such as straws, forks and knives, as well as cotton buds, will be banned in the European Union by 2021. In Germany, a new packaging law will come into effect on 1 January, which aims to improve recycling and reduce packaging waste.

If we fail to clean up the plastic and don't stop the continued pollution of the oceans, we are facing the potential extinction of many sea life species and the interruption of the entire marine ecosystem, as well as a depletion of our precious food stocks. The establishment of a national environment protection agency would be a positive start. It is time to act now. I will be speaking about this subject at the upcoming Bondi Ocean Lovers Festival in April, and I encourage anyone who cares about our marine environment to attend. I urge the Australian government to take decisive action by developing policy and dedicating funding to combat this environmental threat.

4:22 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As we head towards an election, it is worth remembering that we have seen six years of attacks from this government on Centrelink, on our social payment system and on people who are doing it the toughest. For six years, the government has punished people through Centrelink instead of supporting them. We've seen the disastrous robo-debt recovery program, the expansion of the cashless welfare card, outsourcing of staff to private companies like Serco, demerit points, Work for the Dole and, of course, the Community Development Program. And the rates of Newstart, youth allowance and other payments remain outrageously low. They lock people into poverty.

In a country like Australia, we should have a fair and accessible system that provides people with a safety net when they need it. There's sometimes talk from those on the right that poverty is a choice. Poverty's not a choice; no-one would ever choose it. But I'll tell you what is a choice: punishing people and keeping people in poverty. That is a choice that this government repeatedly makes and needs to be held accountable for.

As we debate the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2018-2019 and await tonight's budget, I want to share with the House the stories of people in my electorate who, as a result of this government's decision to raise money not by going after the top end of town but instead by attacking those who are least in a position to be able to afford it, have faced the consequences of this government's failure. We've been contacted by almost 350 Melbourne constituents who've needed help with Centrelink recently. When my office receives calls from university educated constituents—let alone people whose first language isn't English—who want to raise their concerns because they can't understand or navigate the system, the situation is clear: Centrelink is breaking under this government.

Melbourne constituent Bridget contacted my office after her claim for youth allowance, which she had made four months earlier, still hadn't been processed. She made the claim well before her university semester and was still waiting after the semester had finished. Bridget's a full-time student, but she was forced to work up to four days a week to cover her basic costs. She told my office that this had a huge impact on her studies and her health. She was forced to work when she wanted to focus on her studies. After my office contacted Centrelink, her claim progressed, but she was told by them that she was no longer eligible for youth allowance because she was earning too much. You don't process their claims, you force them to go to work and then you say, 'We're not going to give you any of your payments because you are earning too much.' My constituent was forced to work because her claim took more than four months to be processed, only to be told that the situation the government forced her into then excluded her from receiving the support that she needed.

One constituent contacted my office after making a claim for Austudy that still hadn't been finalised more than three months later. She went without any income support from the government for more than three months, struggling to pay bills and rent, and couldn't work because her degree required her to do two 14-week full-time placements. So she wasn't in a position to be able to go and work. Another Melbourne constituent contacted my office after her disability support pension was cancelled in July last year without notice. She wasn't able to go to a service centre due to her disability and didn't have a phone. She spent 45 minutes standing in the freezing cold at a phone booth waiting on hold to speak to Centrelink, who then gave her the wrong information and didn't reinstate her payment. She was told her payment was cancelled because Centrelink wanted to transition her to the age pension, when, in fact, it was cancelled because Centrelink had sent a letter to the wrong address. She told my office she'd been living off bread and tea for two months and that she'd just run out of tea. She had been sent threatening letters to vacate her residence because she was so behind on rent and she was at risk of having all her belongings sold because she couldn't continue paying for storage. This should not be happening in Australia.

Another constituent, Alex, contacted my office after his claim for the disability support pension was refused. His appeal had been going on for more than one year. In the meantime, his disability meant that he couldn't get work, and the government's payment for Newstart allowance is so low that, after he pays his monthly rent of $1,250, he has less than $200 per month to pay for his bills and food. That's more than 90 per cent of his income that goes on rent, but he doesn't have any options because he can't access affordable housing. Alex told my office that he uses the torchlight on his phone instead of turning on the lights in his house, because that is what this government is putting him through. He tells my office that he is only one step away from being homeless. With the government's new demerit points system, all it would take is one system error to see him miss a rental payment and be out on the street.

These are just some of the stories from the people who live in Melbourne. Right around Melbourne and right around the whole country, people are getting screwed by this government. The truth is that people accessing Centrelink will never match the big donations to the big parties of the big banks and developers and coal companies, so they're seen as easy targets for budget cuts and punitive attacks. It is shameful that governments are failing people like this. We need to make governments serve the many, not just the powerful few donors.

Whilst sharing these stories, I also want to acknowledge here in parliament the work being done by the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union, who are taking a stand for the right to social support and secure payments when we need them. Social support and secure payments when we need them are, of course, and should be, the right of all people in this country. They are informing Centrelink recipients about their rights and organising to change the system.

This government might think that the system is working fine when we punish people rather than help them, but it is not. That is a broken system. The Greens will continue to fight for people's rights to gain proper support and to increase the single rate of Newstart and youth allowance by $75 a week—not put it under review but to increase it. We don't need more reviews. We know—the facts are in—that people are living so far below the poverty line that it is a barrier to their finding work and to their staying healthy and well. We must lift Newstart and youth allowance by $75 a week. Newstart hasn't increased in real term in decades. It is locking people into poverty. We need to change that and we will keep fighting until we do.

The NDIS needs to be there for people who need it. The NDIS is the beginning of work that needs to be done so that people with disabilities can live a good life. But the NDIS needs to be properly resourced and its flaws need to be addressed so that it can provide people with the support they need. I want to share some of the stories of people who live in Melbourne who face difficulties accessing disability support through the NDIS. My office is receiving an increasing number of inquiries about the NDIS as it continues to roll out across Melbourne. We've heard from many constituents facing extremely long delays in accessing NDIS and from even more people who have been waiting months and months for a review of their plan to be completed. Melbourne constituent Lorraine contacted me when her NDIS package had been cut from over $40,000 for the year to just $9,000, placing her at serious risk of having to go into care without access to adequate supports. Lorraine requested an urgent review of her package and some five months later, and only after intervention from my office, Lorraine's review was finalised. Lorraine told my office that once her review was completed, with the same information the NDIS had the entire time, her package was increased from $9,000 for the year to up to $46,000 for just the six months remaining of her plan. She told my office that this process aged her significantly and caused her tremendous undue stress for almost half a year. We're happy to help Lorraine, but you shouldn't have to go to your MP to get your NDIS plan increased from $9,000 to $46,000 on the basis of information that the authority had for the whole time.

We've also heard from parents of young children with autism who waited six months or more for their children's NDIS plans to be finalised, missing out on integral early childhood support. Six months is a long time in a child's life. If you have to wait that long you can miss out on integral early childhood support and that can push families to the breaking point. People can't see their draft plans before they're signed off, giving no opportunity for participants to argue for a better plan. Given this, together with a cap on staffing of 3,700 people, well under the Productivity Commission's recommended 10,000 staff, it is no wonder that people in Melbourne have to wait six months or more without access to vital support while their plans are inevitably reviewed. The NDIS needs as many staff as it needs to deliver that service. It is so important that the NDIS works for everyone. We'll keep working to make sure it's properly resourced. I want to acknowledge the important advocacy of my Greens colleagues Senator Jordon Steele-John and Senator Rachel Siewert, who have worked so hard for this.

We've just had news this week of the success of the campaign for a royal commission into violence towards and abuse, exploitation and neglect of people with a disability. Congratulations to everyone who worked for this. Change can happen.

Melbourne is a great place to live, but the things that make it liveable are under pressure, and that includes the cost of renting. Yesterday, a report from NATSEM showed that more than one in five renters in Melbourne were under significant rental stress, the highest rate for any electorate in the country. If you want an illustration as to why this is the case you need look no further than the real estate pages online during the course of last week. A rental listing was posted for a tiny apartment in Richmond in my electorate. Not only was it tiny—a one-bedroom apartment—but on the plan the kitchen was in the garage. To get into the house you had to walk through a hallway and through two adjoining doors, one either side of that hallway, and in that hallway was the bathroom. You had to walk through the bathroom in order to get to the other rooms. A kitchen in the garage, a bathroom in your hallway: how much was being asked for for that? $450 per week. It is unacceptable that in 2019 people are being forced to cook in a car parking space and pay $450 a week. Everyone who rents has a horror story about inspecting dodgy places like this, yet prices are sky-high and out of reach for too many. This week, one man came into my office after applying for 50 rental properties and being refused for each one. That is what is happening. People are applying for 50 rental properties and being refused.

Over the last decade, rents in Melbourne have risen by, on average, about 4.9 per cent—over twice the rate of wage growth. According to last year's Anglicare rental survey, not one property in all of Melbourne is affordable for a single person on youth allowance or Newstart. If you're on the minimum wage, only 38 out of the 11,536 homes up for rent across the whole of metropolitan Melbourne are affordable. That is not just in my electorate but across the whole of metropolitan Melbourne. Out of over 11,000 places up for rent, only 38 are affordable if you are on the minimum wage. Even as the decades-long explosion in housing sales prices is coming to an end, reports indicate that rental prices are not falling and that renters are still facing the pressure. The rules are rigged. Government give tax breaks to investors to buy their fourth, fifth or sixth home, while renters are left paying for it. Young people are saddled with debt and living in the precarious world of short-term contracts and the gig economy. They are being sold out.

The government will announce its budget and all its election plans, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it will do nothing to fix the rental crisis, just like it will do nothing to fix education or tackle the climate crisis or do anything to stand up to Senator Pauline Hanson and the right-wingers inside the government. It is absolutely time that we turf this mob out, but we need to have the guts to stand up and say, 'We need rent control in this country, like they have in other countries.' It is time for rent control and to cap rents. We tried to get action on this in Victoria, but the Victorian Labor government has said no. The Greens will keep fighting for rent control to tackle this crazy, out-of-control situation. Hopefully we can get the next government to change its mind, because young people are being sold out.

There's a reason 50,000 students in Melbourne took to the streets to march to demand climate action. There's a reason. People are seeing this government and other governments around the world selling out their future. It comes in the form of the climate crisis, in the form of high household debt, in the form of graduating from university with a huge debt hanging around your neck and in the form of high rent. The Greens will stand up for young people and demand a better deal. The start of that is turfing this current mob out, and the next step is holding the next lot to account.

4:37 pm

Photo of Julia BanksJulia Banks (Chisholm, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Climate change inaction has been the hallmark of both major political parties. It has underpinned chaos and political power plays for too long. For too long, words by both major parties have been just that: empty words, words they have used to pretend they care about climate action and policy, words which suddenly come to the fore with a pending election, words which find their way onto surveys, flyers and town hall robocalls, which are made at the taxpayer's expense.

In the seat of Flinders, there is a proposed project by AGL. The project is this: a floating gas import facility on Western Port Bay at Crib Point, a beautiful part of the world. Concerned locals formed the Save Westernport group. They have worked tirelessly, including consulting both the major parties, to stop this project to build a floating gas import terminal on Western Port Bay. This floating terminal will be capable of importing liquefied natural gas from ships in Western Port Bay. Every time a shipment is delivered, the process would mean taking in sea water from the bay. The water, equivalent to 180 Olympic swimming pools a day, would be chlorinated, chilled and discharged back into the sea seven degrees cooler.

An extension of this project is a 55-kilometre pipeline proposed from Crib Point Jetty. This pipeline would cut through internationally significant wetlands, private properties and Melbourne's food bowl. The Labor Party are supporting this and whilst their local candidate in the seat of Flinders sought permission from his party to say he doesn't like it, and he said this on a Facebook post, this is just that: words on a social media post that will probably find their way onto a few flyers. No way can he fight the major-party machine. He's just saying he doesn't like it. Nice try.

Worse than that is the local member for Flinders, also known as the Minister for Health—also, remarkably and staggeringly, previously known as the Minister for the Environment. He has suddenly also done some Facebook posts and handed out flyers saying he's done robocalls—and he's blaming Labor. 'Stop AGL's project,' he says. There have been town hall telephone calls and he's issued incredible numbers of documents, again, at taxpayers' expense. On the side, he has said quietly to the Save Westernport group—that care passionately about this issue—that there's no way the Save Westernport group are going to succeed here. Countless locals have said to me: 'We just don't believe anything the member for Flinders says any more. It doesn't matter if it's in a brochure or on a robocall.' Having worked with the Save Westernport group, I am so proud to support decisive action in the form of a formal petition that requests the federal government of the day to stop this development and to protect the Western Port site.

The Australian government of the day's specific role in wetland management and protection is established under the international Ramsar convention. The proposed AGL floating gas terminal in Crib Point is subject to federal government assessment and approval, which the state Labor Party have given support to, and processes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The government of the day has the avenue to review this project and stop it under our international obligations of the Ramsar convention.

This formal petition was brought to Canberra this week and we will continue to accumulate signatures. This is effective, constructive action. The train has left the station, in many ways, because of the support of the Labor Party and the implicit support of the member for Flinders, and the government, by turning a blind eye. They ignored their obligations under the Ramsar convention in relation to Toondah Harbour in Queensland. This is an avenue. This Ramsar convention says we can take this real action to protect our environment.

As an Independent I believe in the power of the people, the local people, and this Save Westernport group have done an amazing job. They have done an amazing job. They don't want to see this floating gas facility destroy this beautiful part of the world where the sea is, where people swim, where people walk their dogs and where the flora and fauna of Australia are at their best. It would be a brutal blow to put a pipeline through marine wetlands of our beautiful country.

The people in the seat of Flinders tell me they've been taken for granted for too long and their concerns about local issues are being ignored. They are tired of the combative politics and game playing purely for self-promotion and getting votes for the major parties. They want change. They want a representative with experience and commitment who genuinely wants to get things done for their local community. This AGL project has the potential to cause serious air, light, noise and water pollution, present fire hazards, negatively impact on property values and risk marine life and aquaculture.

No-one I have spoken to in the local community across Flinders, particularly about this project, believes their local member anymore. Why should they? The member for Flinders, when he was the Minister for the Environment, is the man who approved Adani. The member for Flinders is the man who was a prime mover in ousting former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and deputy leader Julie Bishop. He's the man who felt that with the member for Dickson they would make a great duo of leadership. In fact, his role in destroying our environment, in not protecting our environment, as the minister for our environment has been incredible. He is the man who lied to the leaders of our country, who lied to his local community, and he's living a lie in relation to this issue.

The people of Flinders feel their voice has not been heard and they are sceptical about the meetings which have gone nowhere and the sudden flurry of costly, meaningless pre-election flyers and forms designed purely to data-harvest and obtain contact details. That is not a real petition. That is to do data harvesting and write and send more flyers to people. The government of the day cannot shirk this responsibility, nor can it deny that it has the power to put a stop to the AGL development which the petition calls for.

The Australian government's specific role in wetland management and protection is established under the Ramsar convention, and the proposed facility is subject to this assessment process. The petition gives the local community a voice in Canberra, a powerful voice to tell the government that they want effective action to stop this development.

As an independent I believe in the power of the people. Climate change action must happen. Climate change is not only real; it is happening. We've seen it in Flinders. We've seen it across our country. A strong independent will bring back the balance, stop the lies and stop the empty words.

Speaking of stop, we have to stop Adani. Australia does not have a social licence to go ahead with Adani, but both the major parties will pay lip service to that and say in one state they can't and in another state, yes, they will, depending on where the votes are. We have to support our children, the strike-for-climate leaders. They did an amazing job. These are the future generation. These are the people who we have to make sure we engage in climate change action now so we do not leave intergenerational debt in relation to our beautiful country and in relation to our climate and our planet. We need genuine action—no more words. I am so proud to support the local community and the broader Australian community on this critical issue of climate change action. The major parties have got to stop using it for sound bites in the press and to create their flyers come election time. We have to do real and serious action. We have to listen to the people. We have to listen to the stop Adani people. We have to listen to the strike-for-climate leaders. We have to listen to the students, to the younger generation. We have to listen to the save Western Port group. We have to save Western Port Bay. We have to stop AGL and companies such as this that are doing nothing more than wrecking our environment and absolutely fruitlessly destroying our environment for the sake of profits.

Save Western Port group, I thank you and I stand with you in relation to this issue. I say the same to any person in this country who is saying that they want to protect our climate for future generations and to meet our international obligations: renewables are the future and we need business certainty in relation to reducing our emissions. We cannot invest in new coal-fired power stations and we must take climate change action now and critically. Thank you.

4:49 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank all members who have contributed to the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2018-2019, the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2018-2019 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2018-2019. These additional estimates appropriation bills seek authority from the parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for this financial year. Passage of the bills will ensure continuity of government programs, commencement of new activities agreed by the government since the 2018-19 budget and the Commonwealth's ability to meet its obligations for the 2018-19 year as they fall due.

Details of the bills are contained in the additional estimates process, but in summing up I'd like to highlight three particularly important areas related to the delivery of the government's commitments that are supported by these bills. First: the bills include support for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Second: they provide assistance for farmers and farm communities in drought. Third: they deliver critical enhancements to the security infrastructure of Australia's overseas diplomatic network.

Once again, I'd like to thank all members for their contributions. I commend the bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.